WASHINGTON – Visitors can look at prize-winning photographs,see a film in a 4-D theater,play at being a TV anchor or an editor on deadline with an ethical dilemma to resolve. Or they can have a gourmet lunch and admire the view from the Pennsylvania Avenue Terrace.
After seven years of planning and building,the Newseum opens Friday,claiming to be the most interactive and technologically advanced museum about journalism and the news business.
With more screens “big and small” than any museum in the world,Charles Overby,the Newseum's chief executive officer,said that when tourists visit the capital to see “inspirational” and historic monuments and to see government action firsthand,they will learn that the “press has a central role in that democracy.”
Admission on Friday is free,but after that,tickets for adults will be $20 per visit.
The $450 million Newseum,a private museum primarily sponsored by the Freedom Forum,receives no federal funding like other nearby museums,including the Smithsonian Institution museums,which are free. Some other nearby museums,including the popular Spy Museum,which charges $18,do charge admission.
“If you think the Smithsonian is free,you haven't looked at your pay stub lately,” Overby said.
Jugglers and other performers will welcome people Friday morning,and a dedication ceremony will take place in the afternoon. Speakers at that event include New York Times Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,the founder of Bloomberg News; News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Newseum President Peter Prichard said the museum features “objects and labels like museums always have,” two television studios where people can see what goes on behind cameras,23 hours of new films and 130 interactive stations.
“The Newseum is not for journalists,” agreed Ralph Appelbaum,founder of Appelbaum Associates,whose firm designed the exhibits.
The seven-floor building houses interactive games,exhibits,memorials and a three-level restaurant created by chef Wolfgang Puck.
Other sights are the first TV news helicopter,a Bell 206B JetRanger III,and a replica of a NASA communications satellite,both of which hang in the Newseum's atrium.
A Journalists Memorial with nearly 2,000 names of journalists who died while reporting is on display,along with Today's Front Pages,copies of 80 front pages from around the world. Others are displayed in cases on the sidewalk. If visitors cannot find a particular paper,they can search a 500-newspaper database and view them electronically.
The First Amendment,etched on a 74-foot tall,50 ton-marble monument that greets visitors at the door was intended to be about 4 feet tall.
“It grew in our imaginations to something much bigger,” Newseum architect James Polshek said.
Appelbaum said the designers and executives learned from the first Newseum in Virginia that the interaction is different from that in other museums.
It was common for strangers to share stories,he said,and for children to relate to their parents. It was “a noisy museum,” he said,and “people liked going through it in groups.”
Washington-area school groups get in free for the first year,Overby said,thanks to the Washington Post. School groups have also been allowed to tour before the opening day.
Celia Perez,13,an eighth grader at Ramona Middle School in La Verne,Calif.,toured Tuesday with the rest of her class.
In front of bright lights and a camera,students shared a microphone,read from a teleprompter and “reported” from the Supreme Court,White House,Capitol or a cherry blossom background. They could buy a download of their work for $8.
Celia and her classmates enjoyed the interactive second floor,where they played a video game that allowed them to test their skills for accuracy as reporters or shoot the perfect image on a TV screen.
The Berlin Wall exhibit features a large section of the Berlin Wall and a 40-foot guard tower.
In the middle of the Sept. 11 exhibit,sits a piece of the antenna from the north tower of the World Trade Center. Behind that stands a wall of the final photos taken by Bill Biggart,the freelance photojournalist who was killed when the second tower collapsed.
A glass case holds his wedding ring,press pass and camera,all on loan from his wife.
One wall,stretching two floors,features front pages of newspaper coverage of the attacks from all 50 states and 34 countries,totaling 127 pages.
“I like anything visual,” she said.
In the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery,with winning photos dating to the 1940s,visitors can use a touch-screen database to see explanatory text and hear audio of photographers talking about their photos. Violent photos and video come with a five-second parental warning.
The Newseum also focuses on problems with accuracy,bias,misuse of anonymous sources and deceptive journalists,Prichard said,such as the New York Times reporter Jayson Blair,who fabricated stories.
Headline busts,such as “School tested mushrooms,” and other headlines with unintended second meanings are printed on restroom wall tiles. Quotes from columnists,reporters and other historical figures cover the hallways.